What a year, and damn am I glad it’s over…
I don’t usually bother with New Year’s resolutions.
This is because I feel that most people make them quite halfheartedly and rarely pursue them as serious goals – thus rendering them little more than cheap topics of discussion at New Year’s Eve parties to be forgotten with the morning’s hangover.
But this year I’m thinking it might be a good idea to try something new. In years past I’ve “attempted” to do this before with super vague resolutions such as “improve my Russian” or “learn French”.
These are weak goals in and of themselves – and they’re not easily time bound by a year.
So instead of ambiguous, open ended resolutions we wont bother sticking to lets take a look at a handful of examples of goals that might prove more attainable and perhaps more fulfilling.
Certainly the hardest hurdle to overcome when learning a new language is the fear that comes with speaking to real people – native or otherwise. Sometimes it’s so intimidating that we don’t even want to hear our own voices when we’re alone.
We’re an incredibly self conscious species and this often gets in the way of our ability to perform anything we’re not extremely comfortable with.
I don’t have an awful lot of advice for dealing with this phenomenon – as it is one I still struggle with myself – except to just jump in head first and see what happens.
So this year just jump in! It’s going to take a lot of guts, and it’s probably going to create some embarrassing situations, but it should smooth itself out quicker than you expected. You’ll quickly find yourself wondering why it ever seemed so difficult…
…at least until you start your next language and repeat the process! Hopefully it’ll be easier that time around though.
2. Focus on short term goals
One of the problems I cited with New Year’s resolutions is that they often take the form of longer term goals, but not usually very SMART goals. You can read all about SMART goals and how to set them in this post here, but suffice it to say that in order to make progress in language learning it can really help to focus on smaller things.
Larger goals are great to have – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but a single year isn’t that long if you really think about it and most longer language goals – such as “becoming fluent in Spanish” are going to take more than one year for most people.
Instead, break your language goals down into things like becoming solid with your conjugations or completing a short course like Pimsleur or Duolingo.
You could even try divvying your year up month by month; a different short term goal for each.
I’m planning on learning 100 new German words per month, a goal I think is perfectly manageable. 100 words isn’t very difficult to handle in 30 days, in fact some might say it’s too easy. I think it’s a nice, small, manageable number that will allow me to spend more time doing other things – like working on speaking!
3. Reserve time for languages every day
Making time to study your new languages is another oft cited issue faced by adult learners. Unless you’re comatose, there’s probably a way for your to fit language learning into your schedule, no matter how crammed with work, kids, hobbies, errands, chores and sleep it may be.
You can check out this recent infographic I made that offers some suggestions on how anyone can better manage your precious time and squeeze in some language study.
Everyone has the ability to make time – the amount will depend on your circumstances, but for this resolution it doesn’t have to be a lot. Even spending 20 minutes a day on your language projects – while slow – is better than nothing. You’d be amazed at what you can cram into just 20 minutes.
Especially when you consider that many days you probably don’t spend any time studying; 20 minutes a day can really start to add up!
4. Begin a new project
Getting started is the hardest part of learning a new language.
It’s hard for most of us to know where to begin. Studying can be as difficult or easy as we make it, but unless you’ve done this a couple times before you’re probably going to want to be pointed in the right direction.
If you’ve been procrastinating on starting Quechua, Thai or Korean for months or even years; always telling yourself you wanted to learn, getting ready to start only to fail to leave the starting gate, perhaps this year should be different.
Sometimes we choose a language only to find out after a few weeks or days that we really dislike it. Unless we’re being graded on it there’s no reason we have to keep punishing ourselves by driving our heads into a brick wall; some languages simply aren’t a good fit.
Beginning that new language is the only way to find out for sure. So what are you waiting for? Resolve to try a new language this year!
5. Save up some money for a trip abroad, or perhaps locally
So this isn’t strictly for languages, but if you’re learning a foreign language spending some time actually immersed in it is going to be the best way to learn – even if it’s only for a week or two.
Unfortunately for most of us – myself included – traveling is wildly expensive. This is why the trip itself might be a poor resolution when it comes to attainability. Instead of promising yourself a trip you may not manage this year, commit to putting aside a bit of cash towards such an event.
If you can take a trip this year, by all means, do, but I know full well just how expensive plane tickets alone can be – especially for Americans.
Alternatively, in most large cities you can find communities of native speakers for most of the languages you’re likely to be studying.
For someone in the US such a city is usually within a couple hours’ drive of just about anywhere for those not already living in one. Considering the proximity of European countries to one another I imagine a similar scenario is equally possible – if not easier considering that Europe actually has public transportation!
Check out their cuisine, shops, night life and most of all engage with people. Speak up!
So if you can’t go abroad, look around for a local oasis of foreign culture and language – I bet you can find one if you really try! This year, commit to saving for a grand adventure or even finding one nearer to home.
I’m personally committing to learning 100 German words, well, each month. It may sound easy, and it will probably start out so, but I’m willing to bet that after a few months I’ll start to feel the strain of up keeping my expanding vocabulary.
What about you? Are you going to try any of these? What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2017?
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